While a hearty bowl of pho may be the most well-known Vietnamese dish, Cambodian-American Sandra Lim has made it the centrepiece of her trendy new restaurant, which opened last month in the capital’s Tuol Kork district.
Pho Cali is named after Lim’s home state, where she says she developed her own take on the traditional beef noodle soup through experimentation. “I like to eat pho, and I learned to make pho,” she says.
Lim explains that she was motivated by her travel between her home, in California, and her family’s homeland. “Since I go to Cambodia for business, I want to have my own restaurant that uses quality products from Western countries in Cambodia.” she says.
“I also wanted to keep this California name because I want to remind my children that they were born in California although they are Cambodian,” she adds. Pho is usually flavoured with beef bones, oxtail, onion, ginger, cardamom seed, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fish sauce, brown sugar, spring onion and bird’s-eye chilis.
The flat, wide rice noodles are thrown in with beef sirloin or filet and garnished with coriander leaves, chili sauce, hoisin sauce, chili oil and lime. Making the broth alone can be a five- to six-hour process, Lim says.
She’s not diverging much from the traditional recipe, but rather has “upgraded” the quality – and as such, the price. While a bowl of pho is readily found on the street for under a dollar, on the menu at Pho Cali are Lim’s pho ($3.80 for a regular, $4.50 for a large) and her special pho ($4.50 or $5.50) which has extra beef and a raw egg.
The difference? Lim says her pho is made with only high-quality Australian beef – including the intestines and meatballs. “Our meat is expensive, but it tastes better,” she says. For under a dollar, you can get a side order of bite-sized chha kvei, a fried rice flour-based breakfast bread.
To wash it down, Lim serves Nespresso in place of Vietnamese drip coffee – a very Californian touch. The food matches the interior, which features a quite minimalist Western design with colourful Cambodian-inspired decoration. Boxes of coffee and bottles of American-imported sauces line the shelves.
The seating is no fuss: a set of wooden tables and chairs that pander to the crowds. And there is a crowd. Lim claims she already sells a hundred bowls of pho every day. She says that with some luck, she hopes to expand the business to other locations. The Pho Cali name, she says, will stick.
Pho Cali is located at #63 Street 315 in Tuol Kork. It is open from 6am to 8pm everyday. Tel: 070 558 855.